What supports are available to those struggling to pay their energy bills?
There are plenty of ways you can get help if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, such as applying for support from the Department of Social Protection or engaging with your energy supplier to arrange a payment plan.
Even in so-called normal times, people can encounter difficulties paying their energy bills. But with gas and electricity prices at record highs, more people than usual might be struggling.
However, there are plenty of supports and services available to help people.
In this guide, we take a look at the options available to energy customers who are having trouble paying their household energy bills.
Social Welfare supports
The Department of Social Protection pays out a number of supports that go towards helping people pay their energy bills.
The main support many people will be aware of falls under the Household Benefits Package (HBP).
Those eligible can receive either the Free Electricity Allowance or the Natural Gas Allowance, which is paid directly into your bank account. Both payments are €35 per month or €1.15 per day.
The HBP isn't means tested but in order to get it you must be aged 70 or over. However, if you’re under 70 years of age you may still qualify if you are getting a qualifying social welfare payment. See our guide here for more information.
Another key support available for people is the winter fuel allowance. This is a means-tested payment that comes under the National Fuel Scheme and those who qualify can receive a weekly payment of €33.
The winter fuel allowance season usually starts around September and lasts for 28 weeks. To find out more and whether you’re entitled to the payment see our guide here for more.
You may also be entitled to a once-off Exceptional Needs Payment (ENP) for help with paying your bills, such as gas and electricity.
This is a single payment to help with an essential, once-off cost that you cannot pay out of your income and is part of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme. It is also a means-tested payment.
Chat to your supplier
Energy suppliers offer a range of support systems to help you if you're having trouble paying your bills.
In fact, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) requires suppliers to have trained staff in place to help customers for this specific purpose.
If you’re having difficulty paying your energy bills, suppliers can usually help you to find a mutually agreeable solution, usually by arranging a practical payment plan, especially for those who may be in arrears and have built up debt.
Some suppliers have also set up hardship funds which provide financial support to those in need.
For example, Electric Ireland has announced a new €3 million Hardship Fund opening this autumn to help customers who have difficulty paying their bills. The fund will operate throughout the winter months and into next year to ensure customers who need assistance in paying bills are supported. Access criteria for the new fund will be announced over the summer.
All Irish energy suppliers must also abide by the voluntary Energy Engage Code, which is a pledge to ensure that they will take a number of actions to make sure that customers at risk of disconnection remain connected to their supply.
In short, if you’re at risk of disconnection, or if you feel your debt is becoming a problem, the most important thing to do is to engage with your supplier as soon as possible. This way you can find a solution that works for both of you.
The last thing a supplier wants to do is disconnect you and this is only ever carried out as a last resort.
Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS)
One of the most accessible and helpful advice services for customers having trouble with their finances is the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, or MABS.
MABS is an independent service that’s free for all members of the public to use, and is especially helpful if you’re having trouble with your energy bills. So, if you feel your debts are in danger of becoming a problem, it can help.
All you have to do is call its helpline on 0818 07 2000 Monday to Friday from 9am to 8pm for money and budgeting advice, or see its website for more.
Saint Vincent De Paul
If you haven’t already reached out to your supplier to set up a payment plan, it may also be worthwhile contacting the Society of St. Vincent De Paul (SVP). The charity is a great resource for helping people who are struggling with their energy costs to come up with a workable plan.
SVP also works closely with all energy suppliers, as well as MABS, to help struggling families pay their energy bills on a daily basis, so reach out to see how they can help.
Switch your energy supplier
It may not be possible for everyone, but one of the best ways to make sure you’re not overpaying for your gas and electricity is to switch supplier.
There are around a dozen energy suppliers in the Irish market right now and most are competing aggressively for new business and will offer discounts of up to 40% or more for an entire year to entice you to switch to them.
But once your first year is finished, so too will your discount, and you’ll be stuck paying your suppliers' more expensive standard rates. So once your contract period is over it’s very important that you compare prices and switch again to another energy company.
The easiest way to do this is by running a comparison and then switching on bonkers.ie by using our energy comparison service here.
For more information on the comparison and switching process, make sure you take a look at our guide on how to get cheaper energy bills.
More saving tips
If you’re looking for more saving tips, check out our other helpful articles:
- Here's a list of 15 easy ways to reduce your electricity consumption and save money.
- Learn how you can heat your home for less with these tips.
- Discover how you can save on a variety of household bills in this article.
Need any help?
If you have any questions about the supports outlined in this guide, don’t hesitate to contact us.